Tennessee Open Records Act

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The Tennessee Public Records Act (Tennessee Code Annotated 10-7-101 et seq.) is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Open Meetings Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Tennessee FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Tennessee sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in Tennessee (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).

Lawsuit Year
Cleveland Newspapers, Inc. v. Bradley County Memorial Hospital 1981
Dorrier v. Dark 1976
Mayhew v. Wilde 2001
Memphis Publishing Co. v. Cherokee Children & Family Services 2002
Memphis Publishing Co. v. City of Memphis 1974
Memphis Publishing Co. v. Holt 1986
State ex rel. Wellford v. Williams 1903
Swift v. Campbell 2004
Tennessean v. Bureau of TennCare 2005
Tennessean v. Electric Power Board of Nashville 1998
Tennessean v. Tennessee Department of Personnel 2007
The Tennessean v. Powers Management/Allen v. Day 2006

Proposed changes


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011

We do not have any legislation for Tennessee in 2011.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010

We do not have any legislation for Tennessee in 2010.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

Handgun applications

House Bill 53, introduced by Rep. Eddie Bass (D-Prospect), tried to make information related to handgun permits and applications exempt from public records and make the publication of such information a felony.[1][1] This bill was withdrawn on February 12, 2009.[1]

Handgun applications, Class A fine

House Bill 221 was Rep. Bass' second attempt at exempting concealed-carry permit holders from the Tennessee Open Records Act.[2] House Bill 221 only differed from the previously withdrawn House Bill 53 in that unauthorized publication of permit information would result in a fine-only misdemeanor and carried a maximum fine of $2,500, rather than being classified as a felony.[3]

Exempt legislator's emails

House Bill 405 was introduced by Rep. Henry Fincher (D-Cookeville) and sought to exempt legislator's emails from public scrutiny.[4] The bill was introduced in response to an open records request received from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.[5] Its companion bill in the Senate was Senate Bill 713.[6]

Senate Bill 713 was introduced by Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) in response to an open records request received from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.[6][5] It sought to exempt legislator's emails from public scrutiny.[6] Its companion bill in the House was HB 405.[4]


The law was amended in 2008 to require records custodians to respond to records requests within seven days. The new law also outlines the duties of the new state open records ombudsman, who must set a reasonable fee schedule for extensive records requests, among other things.[7]

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Tennessee #47 in the nation with an overall percentage of 36.70%.[8]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Tennessee 16 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 45 out of the 50 states.[9]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Tennessee's law as the 44th worst in the country, giving it a letter grade of "F."[10]

Features of the law

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Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The Tennessee law does not contain an explicit statement of purpose.

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Records in the possession of public agencies in Tennessee are open to perusal by the public unless they are specifically exempted by statute or case law. Records are defined as any documents, no matter the physical form, which are "made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency."[11]


There are currently more than 200 exemptions on the books, scattered throughout the reams and reams of text of Tennessee Code Annotated.[12]

Nonetheless, Tennessee requires that exempt and non-exempt material be separated, when found in the same source, and that the non-exempt materials be released.[13]

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Tennessee law includes all government branches at both state and local governmental levels.[14]


See also: Legislatures and transparency

The Tennessee Open Records Act is ambiguous as to whether the law applies to the legislature. While the broad definition of public body would presumably include state legislators, there is a strong exemption for documents held on the legislative computer system found at Tennessee law 30-10-108.[15]

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-Tennessee

Tennessee law uses a test to determine if a private entity is considered a public body subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act. The private entity in question must perform a public function, but that alone may not be sufficient. Other factors include the entity's funding, who created the entity and the degree of control that a public agency has over the private entity.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

The law states that any citizen of Tennessee may request public records there. Public documents shall "be open for personal inspection by any citizen of Tennessee."[16] However, recent federal court rulings have overturned similar state specific statutes and opened up records in these states to all United States citizens.

Impact of Lee v. Minner

In 2006, a federal appeals court (the Third Circuit), in the case Lee v. Minner, rejected the constitutionality of Delaware's law that disallowed non-residents from making public record requests.

The Third Circuit's rulings apply to Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and any other state that permits access to only state citizens. As a result, the provision in the Tennessee Open Records Act that prohibits non-residents from access to records is likely to be considered invalid.

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

Tennessee law does not require a statement of purpose.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

Tennessee law does not restrict the use of records.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Tennessee allows seven days to respond to records requests.[17]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Reasonable fees may be charged for requested copies of records, but not merely to view the records. Fees schedules are established by the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel.[18]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

The Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel is encouraged to include the costs associated with search time when establishing record fee schedules.[19]

Records commissions and ombudsmen

See also: State records commissions

Public Records Commission

The Tennessee Public Records Commission was created to oversee the efficient handling of the preservation and disposal of public records.

Office of Open Records Counsel

The Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel was created in 2008 to assist citizens in gaining access to open records. The agency is part of the office of the state comptroller.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

There is currently no provision within the state open records law that empowers the State Department of Law to enforce the right of the public to access governmental records.

Open meetings

Meetings are governed by the Tennessee Open Meetings Law and must be open if they involve two or more members of a governing body or a body that makes recommendations to a governing body. The law allows portions of meetings to be closed if the topic is pending litigation or one-side discussions of labor negotiations. The state legislature itself is exempt from the open meetings law.[20]

See also

External links